In the previous blogs we have looked at the need for quality standards, the cost and benefits of implementing quality standards and the choice of quality standards available to charities today. In this blog we look in some detail at the PQASSO quality standard, the most commonly used one in the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS), and how you could use it.

PQASSO was developed by the Charities Evaluation Services in 1997 as an evidence-based self assessment tool, based on the premise that if internal systems are ‘quality’ the external services will follow. In 2008 the PQASSO Quality Mark was introduced giving organisations the opportunity to go beyond a self assessment and achieve a recognised external accreditation.

PQASSO is:

  • An off the shelf approach designed by and for the VCS
  • A step by step approach to identify what you are doing well and what could be improved
  • A flexible and general framework that can be applied widely, with three levels depending on the needs of the organisation
  • Appropriate to small volunteer-led organisations as a capacity building tool right the way through to large multi-sited organisations

In the introduction to NAVCA’s performance standards they state they require members to have

“A commitment to undertake a quality assurance system and continue to signpost members to PQASSO as a suitable system”.

PQASSO has twelve quality areas that cover the activities of the whole organisation.

  • Quality Areas 1 – 10 are inward looking in that they concern the things needed to improve the way the organisation functions (eg leadership, people, resources, working with others etc).
  • Quality Area 12 is outward looking in that it considers the results of the organisation in terms of users, people, the organisation and the community.
  • Quality Area 11 examines monitoring and evaluation, and provides evidence to develop both the organisation and improve its services and outcomes.

It is the links between the Quality Areas that makes PQASSO powerful (eg how planning relates to leadership, managing resources etc).

Conclusions

The PQASSO quality standard is not the only show in town for charities to use. But it was designed specifically for the voluntary sector and it was designed by the charity sector. In my experience it is flexible enough and its language is accessible enough to be used by most charities.

The drawbacks mentioned in parts II and III of this series need to be addressed but if PQASSO is adopted for the right reasons and implemented sensibly the costs can be minimised and the benefits far outweigh the costs. This series started by identifying the need in the sector to be able to demonstrate efficiency and effectiveness, and to be able to demonstrate outcomes and impact. Quality standards in general, and PQASSO in particular, can help drive efficiency and effectiveness but also provide a framework for monitoring and evaluation and thereby demonstrating impact.

Can you afford to invest in quality / PQASSO?

Implementing PQASSO takes time and commitment, but it:

  • Is generic and can be applied to your own organisation
  • Has three different levels to suit your requirements
  • Can be used by organisations of all sizes, including as a capacity building tool for very small volunteer led organisations
  • Can be taken beyond self assessment to achieve an externally accredited Quality Mark

Its benefits include

  • Assesses performance against agreed standards
  • Promotes continuous improvement
  • Demonstrates quality of services to funders
  • Improves internal communication
  • Encourages user involvement
  • Provides a health check of organisation and opportunity for quick wins
  • Facilitates planned change against measurable benefits

Perhaps the question should be “Can you afford not to invest?”

I will leave you with one piece of advice and an offer.

The advice – before you embark on a quality journey be sure you know why you want to implement a quality standard and what specific benefits you hope to get out of it. Talk to someone who has been through the journey or is qualified to help you with yours.

And the offer – I am a CES licensed PQASSO mentor which means I am qualified to help you through the self assessment process and, if you choose to go further, help you prepare for the Quality Mark. Please contact me for a free consultation to discuss the extent to which you would benefit from PQASSO and how to take it forward.